My son is away from home for the first time. I haven’t seen him in eight days. I haven’t talked to him in three. I miss him. I long to wrap my arms around him, as he hunches down like he always does lately, pretending he isn’t gradually getting taller than I am. I feel more than a little lost without his goofy stories and tendency to sneak up on me, or hover around chattering about video games while I’m trying to cook. The world feels off-kilter and not quite right. I want my constant access to his voice, his scent, his shaggy hair to ruffle. I don’t know what to do without his uncanny ability to just show up every time I feel sad.
My knowledge of addiction comes from health classes, scientific articles, and observation. I know that for a substance to be physically addictive it has to actually have a physical effect on our bodies, so that when we try to stop, it has an adverse effect on the way our body works. This separation from Ethan has me thinking that maybe love is an addiction. Not a bad one, not an avoidable one, like drugs or alcohol. But something that changes the chemical makeup of our bodies, something we need to function properly. Scientifically, loving someone produces endorphins, chemicals that make us feel good. Giving birth, breastfeeding, holding our children close–all these things produce natural feel-good chemicals that give us a feeling of well-being.
So, if love is an addiction, no matter how benign, grief is withdrawal. When our loved ones leave us, all those things about them that make us feel good leave us, too. Short-term leavings, like Ethan’s trip away, hurt a little. We fill in the gaps by staying busy, counting the days. We patch the missing with phone calls, letters, little hits of contact that keep us going. Forever leavings are harder. We rely on our memories, hold tight to things our loved ones left behind, reminisce and mark occasions. When the memories we have to hold are few, or amorphous, as they are with our babies lost so young, or even before they were physically present enough to hold, there is so little to cling to. We cling to what we have all the more fiercely. Sometimes, we substitute other addictions to mask the feelings of our love addiction. Hopefully, we choose the more benign ones. Too many cupcakes, or corn chips, or ice cream. Escape into video games, movies, or books. Something else to focus on for awhile. Hopefully, we don’t fall into those that have greater and worse long-term consequences: drugs, alcohol, bad relationships.
If love is an addiction, then all of us are walking around struggling through recovery. It’s not a battle that has a definite end point. It’s not something you can safely say you’re over. It’s a lifelong process, with countless ups and downs along the way.